By Tash Reddy

Latest research has shown that the King Shaka International Airport, to be built at La Mercy, instead of being a major source of employment in the area could, in fact, have the opposite effect.

Economist and labour lecturer at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Clive Coetzee, who was part of a team of experts studying the socio-economic impacts of the project on the greater Durban area said it could put enormous strain on the city's resources.

The report says there will be an influx of people to the northern areas during the construction phase of the airport.

"We foresee an estimated 10 000 to 15 000 people coming into the area every year, but the numbers will drop once the airport is complete. There will be a huge increase in the unemployment rate as not all these people will get employment because they don't possess the required skills and qualifications. These people will continue to live in the area hoping to find other employment," Coetzee said.

He added that the growing number of people flocking to the area will see a massive increase in the demand for municipal and other public services, which include education, health, electricity, water, sanitation and housing.

"Crime in the surrounding areas will soar and there will also be a rapid growth of informal settlements," he said.

Another great demand will be cemeteries and Coetzee said government will have to consider bunk graves. "The huge number of people flooding into the area could see 65 percent of the eThekwini municipality's operational budget, which is the infrastructure and services budget, being used up for water, sanitation, housing and electricity, which will leave little money for other services," he said.

Dube Tradeport CEO Rohan Persad said he could not comment as it was an independent project and assessment.

Meanwhile, although it is 33 years down the line from its first proposed date of construction in 1974, work on the airport has still not begun.

Two weeks ago the Pietermaritzburg High Court dismissed an application that would have stopped negotiations over the building of the new airport.

Aveng (formerly Grinaker) was one of the applicants which sought to interdict the Dube Trade Port, the KwaZulu-Natal government and the Airports Company of South Africa (Acsa) from proceeding with work.

Judge Jan Hugo said the applicants had failed to show the court prospects for success and that the respondents as well as the public would be detrimentally affected by the application.

Persad was ecstatic at the outcome of the case and said he still believed the deadline would be met and the airport up and running by 2010.

However, Jenny Mitchell of the Environmental Impact Assessments Department (EIA) at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, who are conducting surveys and research into the project's impact on the area, said they still have not given Dube Trade Port the go-ahead for construction to begin as there were numerous environmental problems which needed to be addressed first.

"There are problems with birds and noise in the area which put a halt to the production process and will be responsible for the time frames changing continuously," she said.

Earlier press reports said almost 3 million barn swallows visit the area on the North Coast every year and while they can handle noisy environments, they posed a threat as they formed massive flocks which swarmed through the sky after sunset which would be dangerous for planes and pilots in their flight path.

However, Persad said: "It is inappropriate for us to comment on the EIA process at this stage as it is an independent process."